California’s primary election just a few weeks away, and it looks like like its going to be an interesting one. One of the weirdest races is the fight for the governorship, where an ultra-rightwing candidate is expected to grab the GOP nomination and square off against incumbent governor Jerry Brown in the general election.
His name is Tim Donnelly, and he’s been freaking out California’s moderate Republican Party establishment.
“This is a battle for the soul of the Republican Party,” Larry Gerston, a political-science professor at San Jose State, told LA Daily News. “If Donnelly prevails, it indicates that the fiscal conservatives, the evangelical conservatives and the Tea Party conservatives control the party and leave Republicans with little opportunity to succeed in the long run.”
The reason why the GOP is freaking out? Donnelly is one of the weirdest and most extreme elected officials in California today.
Donnelly represents Southern California’s High Desert region, located about 100 miles east of Los Angeles — in the California State Assembly. Donnelly not only openly identifies himself as a Minuteman — part of a larger, loosely affiliated network of nativist and anti-immigrant militias, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center — but has proclaimed that his mandate as an elected official is to make sure “Americans are back in power” in the Golden State.
Tim Donnelly ran a small business that manufactured screws for the plastic injection-molding industry before he caught the Tea Party wave to electoral victory back in 2010. He doesn’t have much political experience, but he has a loyal white, ultra-conservative following in the High Desert that has brought him two consecutive victories, with the latest coming this past November.
Both times, Donnelly ran — and won — on an extreme anti-immigrant platform, essentially declaring open season on immigrants and Latinos. In 2010, he openly bragged about his affiliation with Arizona’s Latino-huntin’ Sheriff Joe Arpaio. And he pulled all this off in a district with a huge and booming Latino population.
His secret? He got a lot of help from the subprime bubble . . .
I first came across Donnelly while living in and reporting on the desert subprime city of Victorville, California, a bleak suburban sprawl outpost located in the edge of the Mojave Desert halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. I went there to report on the aftermath of California’s real estate collapse. And Donnelly was certainly a man of his time — a man whose political career was launched and defined by the real estate collapse and economic depression that hit California’s subprime boom towns particularly hard.
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Tim Donnelly’s political awakening began in the mid-2000s, at the height of the real estate boom, when he suddenly realized that the Latino population boomed all around him, seemingly for no reason. Even his ultra-conservative small town of Twin Peaks, located high up in the San Bernardino Mountains overlooking the Mojave Desert, wasn’t immune from the demographic shift.
According to a 2010 LA Weekly profile, one incident in particular pushed him over the edge: In 2005, a 10-year-old Latino boy was accused of sexually harassing a white girl at a local elementary school. The kid’s crime? He allegedly said to the girl: “I want to lick you where you pee. I want to hump you all day and night.”
Donnelly, who also happens to be a hardcore Christian, saw this as a grave offense, and thought that school administrators should have deported the the boy along and his parents right off the bat. Donnelly had no proof that the family was indeed in the county illegally, but he became outraged when school administrators told him to lay off. Clearly, he could not trust the government to protect his children and family from the immigrant threat.
“That comment by that administrator turned me from an average citizen to an activated citizen,” he said, according to LA Weekly. Donnelly dismissed accusations that he was racist, pointing out that his wife is of “Filipino heritage.” “I’m the only white guy in my entire extended family, and I never noticed it until people started calling me a racist because I believe in the rule of law,” he said. And anyway, he didn’t care what people called him. “I am proud to be a ‘racist’ if the definition of racist means that you can tolerate being called names in order to protect children from sexual predators.”
Starting in 2005, Donnelly began forging ties to the Minuteman movement in Arizona, and took multiple trips to train and take part in Minuteman citizen patrols of the Arizona-Mexico border.
Here’s how Donnelly described his first experience keeping vigil at the Arizona-Mexico border to the Moonie-owned Washington Times:
“I thought the wailings we heard at night were the coyotes barking at the moon,” said Tim Donnelly, who headed the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps border vigil here. “I didn’t know until later that those sounds were the cries of women being raped in the Mexican desert, some less than a hundred yards away from the border.
“There was absolutely nothing anyone could do about it,” said Mr. Donnelly, grimacing as he turned away to hide his emotions. “It’s something you never forget.”
Back in his tiny hometown of Twin Peaks, he started up a California chapter of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, one of the original border vigilante groups. Donnelly was extremely successful in organizing fellow nativists. Ultimately his group grew to become “the largest anti-immigrant Minuteman chapter in California,” reported the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Fired up after his first border vigilante patrol, Donnelly published an aggressive manifesto against illegal immigrants. Here’s a small sample:
We are told the illegal alien is now a resident of our communities, entitled to all the protections of the law, but none of its penalties.
We are told that ‘diversity’ is a goal, and although it is unclear when we will reach this utopian dream, it involves more Hispanics and fewer of everyone else.
We are told that American culture does not exist, and even if it did, it is not worth defending because it is ‘racist.’
We are told that raping young girls, marrying extremely young girls, ogling women in an aggressive manner and using a child as a human shield are all cultural differences that we must learn to accept.
As an American, I am not accustomed to being ‘told’ anything. In fact, it is ‘we’ who generally do the telling.
‘We the people’ are finished listening.
Around the same time, Donnelly uploaded a rambling pdf file titled “Action Plan” to his website, MinutemanParty.com, in which he blamed illegal immigrants for just about every problem in American society: They mooched off taxpayers, threatened liberty, raped women, molested children, murdered innocent people in cold blood, undermined American traditions and spread drug resistant TB. Weirdly, he described Mexico as a high-maintenance woman who bled America dry by her need of constant preening:
If you are wondering why almost 4 years after 9/11, the borders are wide open, you are not alone. If you are wondering why your school district is overcrowded & perpetually broke, why your local emergency room is overcrowded and on the verge of bankruptcy, you are not alone.
Illegal immigration is the key threat to our liberty as Americans. It is a threat to our national security. It is a threat to our economic security. It is a threat to our very way of life, which is based on the rule of law.
Rampant illiteracy. Drug resistant tuberculosis. Drug smugglers. Human smugglers. Rapists. Murderers. And of course the “willing worker” who will do anything cheaper than an American as long as the taxpayer pays for his kid’s schooling and healthcare for his entire family. They have exported everything except the 3,000 fugitives from American justice that we have asked returned.
Let’s look at the schools just for a moment. In America, we have always taught the “mentally handicapped” in a separate environment. The point of that was to give the kids who struggle to learn more specialized attention and not penalize the rest of the kids by slowing down the entire class. Now in California, we have slowed the pace of education for American citizens so that children from all over the world can enjoy the “right” to public education, which some federal judge seems to think is in the constitution.
When you look at the US-Mexican relationship, it is like the guy who is married to a “high-maintenance” woman. She does all the nagging; he does all the groveling. She gets everything she wants and is never satisfied, and he doesn’t even bother to ask for anything. That is all I have to say about the marriage of presidents Bush & Fox.
Donnelly compared his newfound calling—his quest to make life harder and more miserable for the most exploited, defenseless population in the country—to Abraham Lincoln’s fight against secession and slavery:
“That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain and that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
On the Battleground at Gettysburg, this is what Abraham Lincoln said. Let us think of those who died on 9/11 and of those 3,000 forgotten Americans murdered by illegal aliens who fled to Mexico to avoid justice. Let us think of them as we take on this challenge…”
Donnelly went way beyond even the normal Aztlan conspiracy theories of his anti-immigrant peers, believing Muslim extremists were going to convert and radicalize Mexican immigrants, and use them as proxies to wage Jihad against the good Christian people of the US of A. No joke.
Here’s one of Donnelly’s Mexican Jihad rants, captured by LA Weekly:
“The facts are incontrovertible that allowing an illegal invasion of the United States will destroy the American Southwest, and very probably wipe out the freedoms we American Christians enjoy, as Muslim Extremists blend in with the so-called ‘innocent’ illegal aliens, and eventually proselytize them. It is not a stretch to picture a revolt in Los Angeles, whose population is comprised of over 50 percent illegal aliens. At the rate of influx and births, it will be 80 percent illegal alien within a decade. … None of this bodes well for the citizens who live in Southern California now, nor will it improve the life of the poor alien, but it is well on its way to wiping out everything that was once good in Southern California.“
Donnelly’s twisted hate and conspiracy babble might make you cringe, but it made perfect sense to the ultra-conservative Republican voter base of the High Desert.
In Victorville—and most of the surrounding High Desert communities—the subprime real estate bubble boomed higher and crashed harder than almost any other place in California. And in the 2000s, these High Desert old timers watched it inflate seemingly overnight, changing the landscape and funneling tens of thousands of Latinos into their home turf from God knows where in the span of just a few years.
Then suddenly, the bubble popped—and the rest of the economy came crashing down along with it. In 2008, the High Desert racked up some of the highest foreclosure rates in the state. Meanwhile, the stock market tanked, banks failed, people lost life savings as their 401k’s were annihilated, home equity disappeared, jobs vanished and gasoline prices shot through the roof. It seemed like the entire country was falling apart, and it was, taking the American myth down with it.
Naturally, the pre-subprime demographic blamed it all on foreign invaders, who scammed banks into giving them loans they couldn’t afford, bought homes in what used to be an idyllic desert paradise, bailed on their obligations and, in the end, crashed the entire economy.
It was at this time that the Tea Party movement appeared on the scene. It, along with the rest of the rightwing news and propaganda complex, was all the eager to reinforce the scapegoating, drawing criticism away from Wall Street fraudsters and helping fuel resentment and racial tensions even more.
Donnelly tapped into that bigotry, hatred and pain.
Think of it as a sort of Weimar Victorville—where the misery and suffering following a giant bankster scam created fear and fascist politics, and opportunity for an avowed Minuteman like Donnelly to succeed.
In his 2010 campaign, Tim Donnelly made demonization of Latinos a huge part of his politics. His big promise was to bring Arizona’s racial profiling anti-immigrant law to California. It would require police to detain and determine the immigration status of anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant—which basically meant the cops could legally detain anyone who looked Latino. One of his campaign slogans was: “Send a Minuteman to Sacramento.”
Donnelly toned down his rhetoric for the mainstream media, but ratcheted it up for his base at Tea Party campaign events. For instance: at a Tea Party Express rally in High Desert town of Barstow, Donnelly framed his mission in terms of an ethnic war, of cleansing America:
“I am going there to reach across the aisle to the enemies of freedom and annihilate them and pound them into the ground and take back our power. . . . We don’t stop until Americans are back in power.“
His white voter base ate it up. In 2010, he beat out a better-funded, more-moderate Republican in the primary, and won the general election by a fairly wide margin.
Not surprisingly, Donnelly’s first term didn’t go so well. He didn’t achieve much of anything, and spent most of his time in Sacramento casting “Nay” protest votes for every single bill that came across his desk and annoying Democrats with his teabagger rants on the floor of the assembly.
Here’s him on the floor defining “liberty” as the right of car-drivers to drive as dangerously close to bicyclists as they felt like:
SACRAMENTO — Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly was thundering on the chamber floor against a proposal to make drivers stay 3 feet from cyclists, a regulation he said would chip away at Californians’ liberty. As his voice rose, a Democratic colleague stepped in.
“I’m tired of you hollering on the floor!” shouted Assemblyman Warren Furutani of Gardena, who urged Donnelly to “use his inside voice.” The interruption was met with scattered applause.
. . .With little chance of affecting policy in a Legislature run by Democrats, Donnelly has made his Assembly desk a soapbox, testing fellow lawmakers’ patience with scorched-earth rhetoric on his favorite subjects.
Legislators want to “kneel and worship the environment,” he says. A Sacramento newspaper is “one of the most Communist papers on the face of the earth.” Cap-and-trade programs intended to reduce pollution will allow liberal financier George Soros to “play poker with our jobs” by gaming the market.
One day, another Republican assemblyman swiped Donnelly’s microphone as a joke (he gave it back).
The one thing Donnelly managed to do was to join the State Legislators for Legal Immigration, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a national anti-immigrant group funded by big rightwing money:
Gay people are the “death knell” of America. The Confederacy fought for “individual liberties.” One-world government, as predicted in the Book of Revelation, is around the corner. The federal government knew about the Oklahoma City bombing before it happened. President Obama is a secret Muslim and not an American citizen. The babies of undocumented immigrants are a “poison.” State troopers should confine immigrants to special ghettoes. A federal agency has secretly built a series of concentration camps for patriotic Americans
These are just some of the radical-right beliefs of a dozen leading members of State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI), a four-year-old organization that specializes in mounting legislative attacks on immigrants in states around the country.
When Donnelly joined the group, SLLI was agitating against the right to birthright citizenship guaranteed by 14th Amendment. Yep, to ‘baggers like Donnelly, not all Constitutional amendments are made equal…
Donnelly might have been useless as a member of state assembly, but he knew how to please his desert hick constituency.
In January 2012, he pulled a stunt to remind his supporters of just why they elected him as their assemblyman: He attempted to board a plane with a loaded Colt .45 in his carry-on luggage, and then blamed it on illegal immigrants, who he claimed had been threatening his life and thus forced him to pack heat.
Here’s the Sacramento Bee:
Donnelly was cited on a misdemeanor charge of possessing a loaded firearm – a Colt Mark IV with four rounds in its magazine, plus a spare magazine with five rounds, said Nico Melendez of the federal Transportation Security Administration.
Screeners at the Southern California airport detected the firearm as Donnelly prepared to board a Southwest Airlines flight to the capital for the Assembly’s first 2012 session.
“It was an unfortunate mistake,” Donnelly told reporters later. He said he “tends to always be armed” because of death threats he has received since launching a referendum to overturn the Dream Act, a new law to permit some undocumented immigrants to qualify for state-funded college aid.
That was enough for voters back home. They elected him by a large margin in 2012, despite the fact that his new assembly district had been redrawn to include a much higher percentage of Latino voters.
But the demographics might gonna start to work against Donnelly very soon. By 2015, his district’s adult Latinos population is projected to outnumber whites by nearly 15% margin. Maybe that’s why Donnelly is running for governor.
Parts of this article originally ran at NSFWCORP, which has since been acquired by Pando.
[Illustration by Brad Jonas for NSFWCORP/Pando]